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CATA Named in Top 10 List

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Categories: General

The following article appeared in the Capital Gains newsletter dated 10/29/08. View the article on the Capital Gains website, with photos, here.


Remember when your parents told you stories about walking to school uphill both ways in 12 feet of snow?

Well, maybe it's time to return to our roots.

Walking is just one of the many modes of transportation the Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) is promoting through their Clean Commute Options  program.

The program is a response to the Tri-county area (including Eaton, Clinton and Ingham counties) falling below Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air quality standards in 2004. Since then, gas prices have risen dramatically and fluctuated wildly, and more people have decided it might be time for the region to rethink the way we get around.

"The goal is to educate the community about alternatives to driving alone," says Cathleen Edgerly, who runs CATA's Clean Commute Options program. "Everyone can participate in increasing our air quality."

There are other benefits, too. In the downtown areas of Lansing and East Lansing, alternative forms of transportation help support local eateries and shops benefit as well.

"If people are walking or biking, especially downtown, they are more likely to go to local eateries," says Edgerly.

Building on Business

CATA's Clean Commute program offers lots of tools to help community members out of their cars and into a clean commute choice—basically, any mode of transportation other than driving alone.

Whether, its walking, biking, busing, or organizing a car or van pool, "CATA is trying to help people make a cleaner and greener choice," says Edgerly.

But the program also helps businesses get organized and ready to support clean commuting for their employees. For example, CATA will help businesses arrange car pools. They also offer "commuter's insurance"—an emergency ride program that reassures carpool members that they won't be stranded by someone's unexpected change of plans.

"CATA will have an Enterprise car rented for them and take them wherever they need to go," says Edgerly. "We will cover the cost for a one day car rental for free."

CATA's Clean Commute Program also works directly with local businesses to inform employees about using alternative forms of transportation. Edgerly hosts seminars at various work sites, and assists employees in mapping out the best routes for their everyday needs.

"We also do ride-matching on site, so employees can meet people who are commuting from the same areas," says Edgerly.

Danielle Weller, internal communications specialist for Lansing's Jackson National Life, says their employees have been taking advantage of the program.

"As we had these reoccurring reminders, every time we have more people sign up and more people that are interested," she says.

"The program is growing in popularity because people want to save gas and money."

Many local firms are realizing clean commute options can be economically advantageous for the company as well. Some companies have even started offering their own van pool services, which helps cut down on emissions and allows them to leverage subsidies and tax breaks. Other businesses are seeing their parking costs go down.

Employees involved in a carpool are also less likely to call in sick or be late, explains Edgerly, which offers its own economic advantages for a corporation.

Cost, Community and Commuting

As fuel costs fluctuate, using cleaner transport can help individuals save money on gas, an advantage clean commuter Rebecca DeWitt has already noticed.

DeWitt shares her commute at least three times a week with other people from various businesses in the Downtown Lansing area.

"It saves us from where we live, about 50 miles per person each day," says DeWitt, who works for Ingham County Circuit Court. "When you add that up—the wear and tear on the car, the gas—it really saves us quite a bit," she says. "When gas was $4 a gallon, and you're using a couple of gallons a day, you're saving six gallons (or about $24) a week." It can also help save money on parking.

"A lot of people don't realize it's so helpful to them," says CATA's Edgerly. "People don't always think about what they are doing everyday."

The savings also come in the form of environmental impact. For instance, an MSU student that carpooling to class with a friend not only saves gas, but they cut the air emissions in half, helping the region's air quality.

That explains in part why CATA is also partnering with the Greater Lansing's Go Green! initiative.  The program's director, Taylor Heins, explains that participating in neighborhood carpools has other benefits, too.

"The number one reason is because it helps build community," says Heins. "You have to cooperate with people in your neighborhood, and it's a great way to meet them. And of course it's great for the environment" too, she adds.

Indeed, Clean Commute has functioned like a friend-finder for DeWitt. "Really, a topping on the dessert is that all of us have sort of developed a friendship," says DeWitt of her downtown carpool crew.

Taking the Transit Plunge

Clean Commute's focus is on supporting a variety of carpooling and ride-sharing choices, but another obvious alternative is CATA's award-winning bus system.

But, as Edgerly points out, it's easy for bus ride novices to feel intimidated about trying mass transit for the first time. And a quick glimpse of some cold, unprepared souls waiting at a bus stop in an unwieldy Michigan winter storm is not exactly reassuring.

But Edgerly encourages everyone to try a CATA bus at least once.

"Once people try it a couple of times, they see that it's not as hard as it seems," she says. "Most people don't want to be the one to hold other people up" that first time they ride, she says. "But not everyone is an expert. We will help you through it."

But if the bus is beyond your car-free commitment, it's good to know that CATA is also investing in a variety of other tools, too.

"It would be disappointing for us if our employees couldn't use Clean Commute," Weller says. "Not many of them use the bus, but they use Clean Commute. That's something we're really taking advantage of, and it would be disappointing for everyone here if that program were canceled."

And that choice is important, because when it comes to clean commuting, Heins reminds everyone that you don't have to be perfect.

"Sometimes, in the winter, you can't walk or bike," she says. "But it's worth it if you just do as much as you can. Every little bit makes a difference."

Lydia Weiss is a freelance writer for Capital Gains. 

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